The Haitian Ghede

otc-gede73The Fete Ghede (Gede) danced, mimed, pirouetted and tramped forward and sideways through the streets heading from the cemetery.  Costumed and quaffed to outrage and provoke the attention of ancestors long deceased, the crowd harnessed the rhythms of powerful drums beating out a “banda” even a Mormon could vibe to.   Konès (the Haitian rara vuvuzela), cowbells, guitars, tambourines and spirited chants over-powered the senses.  The raw aroma of rum, cigars, ginger, incense and other teasing pheromones blended with fresh sweat steaming off the dark bodies of the revelers.  The males would challenge the females with mimed gestures of endearment.  The females would either rebuff or encourage the suitor with more provocations from their painted and shapely brown bodies.  This event unfolding through the streets of Jeremie was the Haitian equivalent of Mardi Gras.  The roistered crowd in a Ghede is very much in tune with performing a time honored ritual that is grounded in a rich, colorful and living culture compared to the drunk fest one is likely to witness in New Orleans.  There can be no equivalent for the collision of exported African deities and European Catholicism mixed with good Haitian rum in place of an unshared silver goblet of consecrated wine.  This is a Vodou ritual were the priest and the people must share the same experience.  The dead must be honored and by doing so the offerer earns further protection for the emerging year.  The Ghede creates the bridge that allows the living to remember and honor the souls that have gone before them.  The living must remember and internalize the loving, arduous and even dark histories of their deceased forebears – the bitter and the sweet, life and death.  Any unmasked sexuality displayed is all the more inciting and honest.  Life and death are one and the same.  Fertility is a blessing and an auto-erotic element of the human condition that guarantees our continuity.  The temperate European or American might blush at such displays, but secretly relish the opportunity that they have arrived in a place where they no longer (at least for the moment) have to wear their purity as a display of their faith and civility.   In a Ghede there is no room for such pretenses.

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 And down the narrow street the throng marched raising hell and merriment.  The intoxicating spirit of Papa Ghede unleashed, at least for a day.  The “banda” rhythms were being banged-out and sampled en masse with innate African sensibility.  Brave Ghede, the guardian of the graveyard, had allowed the living to transgress into the place of the dead.  Offerings and amulets had been placed next to bowls with lighted candles, strange fabrics, bones and other necromantic tithing.  In Vodou lore Ghede Masaka is described as an androgynous gravedigger (a cross between David Bowie and Tina Turner, but more animated) dressed in a black shirt, white jacket and a white headscarf.  He and other psychopomps have their place and purpose in the underworld. Every Haitian child knows their story and as such, these mythical beings are folkloric and even religious characters that are meant to provoke colorful memories, public rituals and serve as a guide for the living as we confront our mortality.


  1. Beveley says:

    Oh my! I had to read it twice, but what a delightful and interesting pause for thought.

  2. This is like looking though the keyhole and trying to understand the little that you can see. Colorful!
    ki sa yon fantasy. kilti nou pa ka analize .

    • Enrique says:

      Yeah, but that is one heck of a key hole! I don’t think we have to understand what we are seeing, only what we are feeling!

  3. C. Moore says:

    I wouldn’t mind hearing those drums and raras. Yeah!

  4. This is some serious voodoo shit people!

  5. JFortunato says:

    What da fut?

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